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February 2016 Monthly Report

| By: Dan McDevitt

Highlights from OTF's supported Internet freedom projects and fellows for the month of February.

Notable accomplishments

  • The Information Controls Fellowship Program’s first-ever class of fellows wrapped up their OTF-supported work, and the application period for a new group has just closed. You can read some of the highlights from our inaugural ICFP fellow class here: https://www.opentech.fund/article/information-controls-fellowship-first-round-wrap

  • Lantern, a censorship circumvention mobile app that delivers fast and secure access to blocked sites, has 1 million monthly active users as of February 29, including 6,700,000 sessions from Iran and 3,700,000 sessions from China.

  • CIPESA monitored and responded to a major censorship event in Uganda surrounding the country’s general elections, as the Ugandan government shut down social media and communication platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter. In response, CIPESA provided support to Ugandans regarding how to circumvent the blockages. See: http://www.cipesa.org/2016/02/ugandans-turn-to-proxies-vpn-in-face-of-social-media-shutdown/

  • Bazaar presented their privacy-enhanced app store F-Droid at FOSDEM ‘16. F-Droid makes Android anti-censorship and privacy-enhancing apps accessible in repressive countries where the Google Play or iTunes stores are blocked. F-Droid prioritizes localization by considering how locals in places like Cuba, Vietnam, and China work around censorship and incorporating those preferences into the app store’s design. Read more and see the FOSDEM presentation here: https://fosdem.org/2016/schedule/event/fdroidappstore/

  • ASL19 conducted user testing of a censorship detection tool which monitors interference at the Internet service provider level. Primarily Iranian Internet users have adopted use of the app so far, allowing ASL19 to continue improving the tool’s effectiveness at measuring censorship in a challenging environment.

  • ICFP fellow Jeffrey Knockel co-authored a Citizen Lab report detailing how popular Chinese Internet browser Baidu tracks personal user data and then sends that information to Baidu servers without or with weak encryption, making it susceptible to malicious attacks. The browser, as well as thousands of apps that run Baidu-produced code, operate with significant security vulnerabilities that could easily compromise sensitive user data. Read* Baidu’s and Don’ts: Privacy and Security Issues in Baidu Browser *here: https://citizenlab.org/2016/02/privacy-security-issues-baidu-browser/

  • Qubes, a security-focused free and open source operating system, continued making improvements to their software, releasing the latest Qubes “release candidate” in February. Qubes OS 3.1 release candidate 3 is a test version of the “final” 3.0 version, and allows Qubes to test and improve their product. You can read more about the release and download it here: https://www.qubes-os.org/doc/releases/3.1/release-notes/

  • OTF’s Red Team Lab supported a security audit of secure messaging software Ricochet, conducted by NCC Group. A relatively new secure messaging platform, Ricochet takes a novel approach to censorship-resistant communications through use of Tor hidden services to route messages with increased anonymity, privacy, and security. Read the audit in full here (pdf): https://ricochet.im/files/ricochet-ncc-audit-2016-01.pdf

  • SecondMuse released an analysis of the environment in which Tunisian journalists and bloggers operate with respect to privacy, security, and state surveillance. As Tunisia continues to evolve in the wake of the Arab Spring, SecondMuse found that Tunisian journalists and bloggers continue to operate under threat of repressive surveillance, face harassment, and work without the benefit of a protective legal environment. Read the report here (pdf): http://internetfreedom.secondmuse.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/if_tunis_low-Final.pdf

  • Threats to Online Freedom began work under contract with OTF. A collaborative effort, Threats to Online Freedom will investigate targeted digital attacks against at-risk populations. Participants include the Citizen Lab, digital privacy and security research organization Open Effect, and Jedidiah Crandall at the University of New Mexico. Read more about this project here: https://www.opentech.fund/project/threats-online-freedom

  • The Internet Freedom Festival took place in Valencia, Spain. It brought together over 800 people from 74 countries who work on different aspects of Internet Freedom, ranging from activists to technologists to journalists. 40% of attendees were women, all who had varying degrees of technical expertise.

Select news collected by OTF from the month of February 2016. Get the full feed live @OpenTechFund

How Ugandans Overturned An Election Day Social Media Blackout | Motherboard
Iran’s “Halal Internet” and the Battle for Online Freedom | IranWire
Tibetan blogger jailed for three years for ‘inciting separatism’ | Committee to Protect Journalists
China to Ban Foreign Companies From Online Media Business | Radio Free Asia
Beijing Officials Tout All-Volunteer ‘Internet Police’ | Voice of America
The Troubling Rise of Internet-Related Arrests in Cambodia | Global Voices
Sockpuppets and Spambots: How states manipulate social networks | Meedan
Russian magazine hit by DDoS attack after reports on Putin’s daughter | IB Times

Projects Mentioned